Towards Nirvana

From Wind Repertory Project
Adam Gorb

Adam Gorb

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General Info

Year: 2002
Duration: c. 21:00
Difficulty: V (see Ratings for explanation)
Publisher: Maecenas Music
Cost: Parts Only (print) - $192.00    |   Score Only (print) - $48.00


Full Score
C Piccolo I-II
Oboe I-II
Bassoon I-II
E-flat Soprano Clarinet
B-flat Soprano Clarinet I-II-III
E-flat Alto Clarinet
B-flat Bass Clarinet
B-flat Contrabass Clarinet
B-flat Soprano Saxophone
E-flat Alto Saxophone
B-flat Tenor Saxophone
E-flat Baritone Saxophone
Horn in F I-II-III-IV
E-flat Trumpet
B-flat Trumpet I-II-III
Trombone I-II
Bass Trombone
String Bass
Percussion I-II-III-IV-V

(percussion detail desired)


None discovered thus far.

Program Notes

I am constantly drawn towards the idea of conflict in my works. The invitation to write a substantial piece for the Tokyo Kosei Wind Orchestra gave me the opportunity to explore the conflict between the stress of living in today's frenetic world and the search for something far more transcendental. During the writing of this work I became drawn to the story of the Buddha: Siddhartha Gautama whose life and teachings over two thousand years ago paved the way to one of the world's great religions.

The Buddha's early life was spent in comfort and naive self-indulgence, and his father made sure that he would not experience any of the harsh realities of the world at first hand. After a while the Buddha did encounter old age, sickness and death on three forbidden visits from his father's palace. On his fourth visit he came across a religious ascetic dressed in rags who seemed content despite his suffering; from this moment on Siddartha decided to devote the rest of his life to seeking the truth of human existence. At the age of twenty-nine the Buddha left his life of luxury to become a wanderer himself. He spent six years in complete self-denial fasting and meditating, before, emaciated and starving, he realized that he was no closer to finding the answers he sought. After several days of prolonged meditation he opted to try a moderate, middle way which would bring an end to suffering. He spent the remaining forty-five years of his life traveling the northeast of India teaching, answering questions and engaging in debates with audiences in the towns and villages. He died from natural causes aged about eighty.

Nirvana is the highest possible state of tranquility and the realization of no-self and freedom from cravings and attachment. The experience of nirvana gives release from suffering and rebirth. The thirty-one levels of the Buddhist universe ascend from Hell to "Neither perception nor non-perception." In this twenty-minute works I have attempted to follow a musical route from depicting base self-seeking human existence through harsh austerity leading eventually to the promise of complete detachment and calm.

In the first part of this work, man's striving for pleasure and self-gratification is expressed in harsh, dissonant music that veers between the expression of hollow triumph and despair. The sleazy worlds of jazz and music hall make their appearances before a complex and desperate climax is reached and then cut off by cataclysmic drum rolls. The second section of the piece is a long extended diminuendo over thirty-one strokes of the tam-tam. A sombre brass chorale offset against the piercing sound of unison woodwinds in their highest registers gradually descends into the murky depths of the band. There is a brief restatement of the stabbing chords of the start of the piece before a tense calm is broken by the sound of offstage saxophones impersonating Tibetan horns. Now the colors become more transparent and the harmonic language softens, and the third section introduces a vaguely pentatonic theme that is also derived from the opening. The saxophones are heard again, as well as new, more exotic sounds. In the final moments of the work I was drawn to the Buddha's own description of the end of a person's life likening it to "A flame that has been blown out. The flame does not go anywhere. Where would it have been before it has here and where would it go to next?"

Towards Nirvana is dedicated to the Tokyo Kosei Wind Orchestra and their principal conductor, Douglas Bostock, who gave the first performance in Tokyo on 18 October 2002.

- Program Note by composer

Commissioned by the Tokyo Kosei Wind Orchestra, Gorb’s gripping symphonic work is an epic spiritual journey through struggle and challenge to peace and tranquility. A milestone in wind writing calling on -- and extending -- the band’s full technical and expressive potential.

- Program Note from publisher

Towards Nirvana, winner in 2004 of his first ever British Academy award for Wind and Brass music, was completed in 2002 and scored for an ensemble a little smaller than in Farewell, but with the addition of harp and extra percussion. The commission came from the Tokyo Kosei band in Japan, one of the world’s legendary wind ensembles, who gave the premiere in Tokyo in October 2002.

A ‘strong recommendation’ was that the work should have a subject appropriate to Japan. Gorb devised a form that would reflect the teachings and journey to enlightenment of the Buddha Siddartha Gautama whose life and work over 2000 years ago resulted in one of the great belief structures of world culture and religion. The resulting score is one of his most demanding technically but most simple and lucid in form and intent: a progression along the steps on a journey through the Buddhist universe from hell to Nirvana -- the tranquility of detachment and calm which is ‘neither perception nor non-perception’. So there is conflict and confrontation though, unlike Farewell, ending not in mere accommodation, but resolution.

Two extended sections are completed by an epilogue. The first depicts a striving for pleasure and empty self-gratification, reflecting Buddha’s own early sybaritic life: frenetic, harsh, a musical world of stabbing rhythms, sleazy jazz and chaotic counterpoint. This is worked to a climax of hollow triumph only to be stopped in its tracks by doom-laden drum rolls and a kind of film-epic brass chorale-fanfare offset by a descending figure in unison woodwinds. The second section is an extended diminuendo over thirty-one tam-tam strokes, representing the thirty-one levels of the Buddhist universe. The jabbing chords of the work’s opening make a brief token return, but the textures are already cleaner and the action less frantic. A tense calm is broken by ‘Tibetan horns’ (offstage saxophones) ushering in a new mood of soft harmony and translucent colour leading to the epilogue. Here a motif from the opening is transformed into a pentatonic theme, and the ‘Tibetan’ saxes set up a magical and increasingly hypnotic sequence where instrumentalists hum and clarinets take up recorders to join a trio of piccolos in an extraordinary unbarred, timeless tapestry of shakuhachi-like sounds that might last indefinitely but is curtailed by a teasing piccolo, unaccompanied, symbolising the Buddha’s likening of a life’s end to a flame blown out: ‘The flame does not go anywhere. Where would it have been before it was here? Where would it go next?’

- Program Note by Giles Easterbrook for liner notes of NMC CD Towards Nirvana


  • British Academy Award for Wind or Brass music, 2004, winner


State Ratings

None discovered thus far.


To submit a performance please join The Wind Repertory Project

  • Royal Northern College of Music (Manchester, England) Wind Orchestra (Clark Rundell, conductor) – 11 April 2003
  • Tokyo (Japan) Kosei Wind Orchestra (Douglas Bostock, conductor) – 18 December 2002 (2002 Midwest Clinic)
  • Tokyo Kosei Wind Orchestra (Japan) (Douglas Bostock, conductor) – 18 October 2002 – *Premiere Performance*

Works for Winds by This Composer

Adaptable Music

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